Big budget disaster movies have become a national past-time. Who doesn’t appreciate a group of scrappy heroes saving the planet? Especially since many of us in the nonprofit sector have set out to do the same.
But what happens when potential disasters—say, an asteroid hitting Earth—move off the big screen and into the realm of possibility? NASA’s DART mission—which stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test—is a perfect example of advance planning. Even better, it reveals powerful ways to strengthen your nonprofit strategy.
The DART mission aims to test new technology designed to deflect any potentially dangerous asteroids that may head toward Earth in the future. As the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division explains:
We’re embarking on a new era of humankind, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous, hazardous asteroid impact. What an amazing thing. We’ve never had that capability before.
How did NASA scientists get to this incredible point? Here at Funding for Good, we’d hazard a guess that it was a combination of thoughtful environmental scans and smart strategic planning.
Luckily, your nonprofit can benefit from these very same tools.
What Are Nonprofit Environmental Scans?
As Funding for Good has shared before, “whether you lead a government entity, nonprofit organization, for-profit business, or educational institution, it is essential to understand internal and external factors that impact sustainability and success.”
This is where nonprofit environmental scans come in. An environmental scan enables your nonprofit to identify external factors that could affect your organization’s success and decision-making.
In the case of NASA, scientists know that small asteroids hit earth regularly, usually disintegrating in the atmosphere. But we know there are larger asteroids out there, and that someday one could potentially hit Earth.
Now that we’ve discovered a potential external threat, what’s a scientist—or a nonprofit leader—to do?
Using Nonprofit Environmental Scans for Smarter Strategic Planning
The next step is using this knowledge to create a strategic plan. Your strategic plan will combine your mission (protect Earth) and your goals (prevent large asteroids from hitting the planet), with a strategy for how to accomplish them.
In the case of NASA’s DART mission, Newsweek explains that:
The idea was that altering [a large asteroid’s] path through space even slightly could change its trajectory enough for it to miss Earth if it were on a collision course.
So NASA’s strategy is to: a) be able to identify dangerous asteroids early, and b) have the tools ready to divert them.
Nonprofit leaders can use this same approach. With nonprofit environmental scans, you’ll identify external challenges your organization is currently facing or could be facing in the future. For example, your largest funder announcing new funding priorities that no longer align with your programming.
Then, with strategic planning, you’ll map strategies to address these challenges, such as investing in creating a stronger donor relations program that can better engage both current and new donors.
Building Impact Evaluation into Your Strategic Plan
Finally, you’ll want to be able to evaluate the impact your strategy is having. That means articulating metrics that will indicate success and how you will measure them.
For NASA, scientists are assessing whether and by how much the asteroid they targeted shifted its trajectory. In our nonprofit leaders example, that could mean assessing donor retention.
But the key is starting with understanding of external challenges and internal capacity. By combining nonprofit environmental scans with strategic planning, you’ll be able to pinpoint where to invest and how best to do it.
Now that NASA is learning how to protect Earth from asteroids, isn’t it time you gave your nonprofit the same powerful tools?